Written by Harry Bingham — You can soon tell that Fiona Griffiths isn’t just your average Detective Constable. Firstly, while examining a cold case file concerning a security guard who apparently stumbled to his death from a cliff-top, she takes a particular interest in the photograph of the head injury that killed him. So, she makes it the screensaver on her laptop. Naturally.
She has been in a relationship with a fellow police officer who is, she says, “…the handsomest, kindest, strongest and most patient man I have ever met.” So she dumps him. Naturally.
Fiona, in her own words, is “…an illegal alien on Planet Normal… travelling on fake papers and in constant danger of being deported.”
The story begins with a very frustrated Fiona being sent down into the basement at police HQ in Cardiff to assist the exhibits officer, who is trying to assemble hundreds of pieces of evidence in a nasty rape and abduction case, given the code name Chicago. When the officer is taken seriously ill Fiona is left to her own devices, which means she can replace her colleague’s scenic posters with her own macabre set of crime scene pictures, including the one of the dead security guard’s head. She discovers that if she sticks her head into a ventilation cupboard, she can smoke one of her beloved joints without it being discovered.
She has also been given an apparently unconnected series of cold case files, and it is not long before she uncovers a connection that has escaped earlier investigators. The link is that two of the crimes – bizarre burglaries – can only have been committed not by Peter Pan, as her boss suggests, but by a very gifted and daring rock climber. Both burglaries point, via the almost impossible means of access, to the suspected suicide of an engineer who was working for a sub-marine cable firm. The dead security guard? Well, he was an employee of the same company.
Fiona manages to convince her bosses that there is a serious conspiracy happening, and she is liberated from the shackles of the Chicago evidence room. More resources are put into the burglaries investigation and she finds herself working with respected members of the UK climbing fraternity to try to identify the climber. The squad is making life extremely uncomfortable for the senior managers at Atlantic Cables PLC, and documents about their activities are seized. More than half way through the book, what seems to be just another elaborate police procedural explodes into violent and painful action. Readers new to Fiona Griffiths may be taken aback by how quickly the pace changes, but existing fans will have been waiting patiently for it to begin. The final section of the book is frantic, scary and superbly written. If you’re not a good sailor, you may want to have a packet of sea-sickness pills to hand.
‘Unique’ is not a word to be used lightly, but since Fiona Griffiths first appeared in Talking To The Dead in 2012, I have become convinced that it is absolutely appropriate. Harry Bingham talked to us after that first novel, and explained something about his heroine. I thought that the 2014 book The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths couldn’t be bettered, but I was totally wrong. Harry Bingham takes common-or-garden words and spins them into a cloth of dreams, insights, fierce action, compassion, humour and, above all, great beauty. Two last things. First, the author provides an intriguing cryptic quiz at the end of the book and, second, if you thought that Fiona’s hours toiling in the Chicago dungeon were wasted then think again.
This Thing of Darkness comes out on 2 July.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars